Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Saturday

1 Peter 2:1-10 / John 20:1-9

Yesterday, much of the world was captivated by images of the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It was an image of splendor, of dignity, of nobility, and of regal and holy decorum, and at the same time, or perhaps because of this, a moment of happiness and joy, of delight and love, of beauty and intimacy. It is said that a million souls gathered in London itself to be part of the event, and who knows how many countless millions viewed from afar, or will view the recordings of the event. The wedding captured the attention of the media and the imagination of many. Even those who professed disinterest could not help but be aware of the moment; indeed, they needed of necessity to go out of their way to avoid watching it, should they have desired to be innocent of knowledge of its details.

Whatever one's opinion of the British monarchy, to witness this wedding is to catch a glimpse, an image of another world, one that lives in the same world as the rest of us, but according to quite a different rhythm. Taken at its word, it is a world where the grace of the risen Christ and the power of his love lift up even the most common of events, the joining of a man and woman to live together, to be a foretaste of the splendor that is Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the Lamb once slain, taking to himself his Bride, the Church, and plighting his troth to be bound to her, and she to him, for all eternity. Yet, this world offends. To some it is a sham, all glitter and gilding with nothing true, nothing wholesome beneath. For others, it is a dangerous lie, a distraction from the true needs of human beings who suffer daily, who lack the basic necessities of life. For still others, it stands against reason itself, a continuation at great public expense of a vision of human reality, and indeed of divine reality, better left to a darker past and not continued on into a supposedly brighter future free of such superstition and archaic tradition.

What is true of the royal wedding, of course, ought also to be true of the life of the Church, and indeed of every Christian, in light of the empty Tomb and the glory of Christ risen from the dead. As Peter reminds us who have tasted that the Lord is sweet, the man to whom we have plighted our troth has been, and always will be rejected indeed by men. Jesus Christ is, for those who will not receive the Good News of Easter, never able to be ignored. He will continue even for those in unbelief as the stone which the builders rejected ... a stone of stumbling and a rock of scandal to them who stumble at the word, neither do believe, whereunto also they are set. To live in the light and joy of the Resurrection is to live in the world but, like the participants at the royal wedding, according to a vision that the world can and never will receive. It has only two choices: to reject the Gospel and abide in darkness, or to receive with us the Good News and enter into the glorious splendor and joy of the risen Christ.

And what of us? Peter reminds us that the pomp and glory of the world, even at its most regal, is nothing when set against the unsurpassed majesty of the Bride of Christ. We are chosen and made honorable by God, and so need not envy the slightest the most ancient and royal of lineages. Indeed, to put the kings of the world to shame, even the least to come from the saving waters of Baptism has been made as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. We who are wed to Jesus Christ, the chief corner stone, elect, precious, have been placed beyond the reach of the taunts and rebuffs of the world which is passing away — and he that shall believe in Him shall not be confounded. We who have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ are nobler than anything the world can produce. We have become, in our Paschal betrothal to Christ, a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people. It is not of whom we are born that ever mattered, only in whom we are born again, we who in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

To whom ought the world to look to find splendor and glory, dignity and decorum, royalty and priesthood? Where will the world see a true image of nuptial joy and wedded bliss? Nowhere but in the true Bride, the Church, and in her royal betrothal to the Bridegroom, the Lamb of God, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, once slain and now risen from the dead, never to die again.

We know that Christ is risen, henceforth ever living: Have mercy, Victor King, pardon giving. Amen. Alleluia!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Friday

1 Peter 3:18-22 / Matthew 28:16-20

These days after Easter are, for some, days of rest. For many schools, these days are days of holiday, and teachers and students rightly enjoy the rising of the Lord from the dead by not doing anything in particular. For many who work in and for the Church, these are also days of quiet. Choirs which had planned and prepared veritable towers of music through Lent and the Triduum, priests who had heard countless confessions and both risen early and gone to bed quite late to guide their flocks in worship, quite often take these days of Easter Week more gently. There is a drawing back, a being at rest.

Now, there is nothing as such wrong with this. On the human level, one cannot always produce at the highest levels, and if we desire to have the fulness of the celebration of the Triduum and of Easter, we will need to have some time away, some time to recover from the effort, gladly done, but effort nonetheless. On the spiritual level, it seems right that the celebration of the Octave, the memory of Easter Sunday as the eighth day, not merely the weekly sabbath, but the sabbath of eternal rest, should not find us busy and at work.

However, as this Octave draws near to its close, the Church reminds us today that Easter is not the ending of Christ's work. Even as it was the penultimate phase of Jesus' earthly ministry, which would come to a definitive close in the Ascension, Jesus Christ himself continued and continues his work from his throne above and through the Body, his Church. Indeed, even while his body lay in the Tomb, Jesus was not idle. Rather, He preached to those spirits who were in prison, descending to the depths in glory both to despoil Satan and his hosts and to free those who believed in him from the beginning of the world. Likewise, when Jesus risen from the dead appeared before the Eleven upon the mountain in Galilee, it was not once again to share freshly caught fish and baked bread, not another occasion to open their minds to the Scriptures, but to set them to work: Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.

Our Easter, then, is not meant to be a time of drudgery and toil, but neither is it meant to be a time of idleness and rest. The work we have done in Lent, all the discipline, was meant to temper us, to make us fit instruments, sleek and supple members of Christ's Body, to respond to the Spirit's promptings at his slightest touch. Now, filled with the joy of Easter, empowered by him to whom all power is given ... in heaven and on earth, comforted by his reassurance that he will be with us all days, even to the consummation of the world, we are to go forth and proclaim the Good News of Christ, once slain, now raised to life unconquerable. Easter has come, and Jesus Christ has risen from the Tomb. The night of death has ended and the dawn of endless day has brightened the world. Confident in that light, we can go forth to do the day's work, knowing already in our hearts the peace and rest of the risen Christ that will know no end.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter Thursday

Acts 8:26-40 / John 20:11-18

If we would understand the mystery of Christ risen from the dead, ought we to begin from our experience, or from a revelation received from without? The Scriptures today seem at first to incline rather decisively against the capacity of experience to lead us to Christ. The Ethiopian eunuch, for example, found himself unable, on his own, to understand the mysteries of the prophet Isaiah, and he admitted the necessity of receiving enlightenment from another. And Philip running thither, heard him reading the Prophet Isaias; and he said: Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest? Who said: And how can I, unless some man show me? Mary Magdalene's encounter with the two angels in the Tomb and with the risen Lord in the garden seem to point in the same direction. Although she sees the empty tomb, although she sees Jesus himself, drawing on her own experience to make sense of it, she can only imagine that the dead body of Jesus has been taken away: Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him ... Sir, if thou hast taken Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him; and I will take Him away.

While it is certainly true that knowing the Lord, knowing Jesus Christ risen from the dead, is only possible by the gift of faith and the mediation of those by whose preaching faith comes to us, our experience, where we find ourselves when confronted with the Gospel, has a rather important role to play. After all, Philip did not preach Jesus Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch on his own terms, based on where he thought it would be good to begin. Rather, he began his explanation precisely where the eunuch has posed his question, precisely at that point where the Ethiopian, who had already determined that the God who set up his house in Jerusalem was the God to be adored, found himself in his pilgrimage of faith. Then Philip opening his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached unto him Jesus.

So, too, did the angels and the risen Lord respond to Mary. They began not arbitrarily, not without reference to her actual condition, but rather by responding to her anxiety about the empty Tomb and beginning with her tears: Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? Her initial response to the mystery of Easter, her understanding of the quest she was on, is allowed to lead the presentation of the Good News. It is in answer to the questions she herself has posed, the journey she has chosen to travel, that the Lord is able to step in, speak her name, and disclose to her the truth. Even her desire to cling to him in the garden becomes the Lord's starting point for appointing her apostle to the Apostles: Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God. It is this commission, beginning with a response to her experience of sorrow and a response to her desire to hold on to Jesus, that enables her to enter more deeply into the joy of Easter, and to summon the other disciples to share in that joy: I have seen the Lord, and these things He said to me.

Each of us in the Church has received the faith from another, and none of us would have been able, on the basis of our own experience, to have arrived at the truth of the rising of Christ crucified. Indeed, like the Ethiopian eunuch, none of us, merely by attending faithfully to the Scriptures, would be able to know the great Good News they offer unless some man show us. Even so, each of us has received the faith in such a way that met our needs, our questions, that encountered us not in some absolute sense without reference to our particular lives, but rather as it were a personalized response to the puzzle that each of us faced. This we ought to remember when we, like Philip, are moved by the Spirit to witness to the risen Lord. Jesus Christ is already at work by the power of his Spirit in those who will receive the Gospel from us. He is already making use of their life's experiences to confront them with just that question that our preaching of the Gospel is meant to answer, the answer at once private and peculiar to every member of the faith and, at the same time, the single and solitary answer to all human quests from the dawn of time until the Last Day: the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Wednesday

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 / John 21:1-14

The appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection are mysterious things. They are mysterious not simply because the Resurrection is itself, while an event in history which left and leaves a real discernible impact in the world is nonetheless something altogether supernatural and beyond all earthly categories. They are mysterious because, on the face of it, we might imagine that Jesus would have been far more direct, for more open about them. Why, we may wonder, is Jesus' identity hidden from his disciples eyes, even though they can see him clearly in a material sense? Why, we may ask, was his manifestation after the stone was rolled from the Tomb not more public, more general, rather than restricted to the admittedly sufficient but likewise admittedly numerically few who were his witnesses?

Had the Resurrection of Jesus Christ been a self-enclosed event, had everything else happened to and for Jesus so that this might be so, that he might live again in his body, then indeed we would have a hard time accounting for the logic of his post-Easter appearances. However, the Resurrection, in one sense a supreme good, is more fundamentally a means to an end. Specifically, Jesus' glorification in his body, his personal victory over sin, death, and the devil in his body happened not only for himself, but more truly for our sake, that he might be the first-fruits of the Church, that he might in his own person inaugurate the life of his Body, the Church, in whose net he means to draw out from the sea of the world an abundant catch.

If, then, Christ risen from the dead is the beginning of the Church on earth, even as Christ in his Harrowing of Hell might be said to have opened the way of Purgatory, and Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father the Church in triumph, it follows that his appearances should also set the standard for the way the Church will both share and share in the Good News. In fact, this is precisely what they do. Specifically, two modes of encounter typify the life of the Church. The first is that the faithful in the Church always know of Jesus and his saving power not directly, but through the witness of others. So, we read that, on seeing the miraculous catch of fish, while not yet seeing in the strict sense that the man on the shore was Jesus, all the same the disciple whom Jesus loves was able to declare It is the Lord. Moreover, it is on the basis of that declaration alone, on the word of his brother apostle making sense of the events surrounding him that Peter is moved to his dramatic response: Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, girt his coat (for he was naked) and cast himself into the sea.

The second is that the faithful, knowing the presence of Jesus in their lives by witness and proclamation rather than direct intuition, partake in his life less by seeking information from him or abandoning the things of this world than by engaging the ordinary tasks of life with the full awareness that Jesus is among them. Jesus saith to them: Come, and eat. And none of them who were at meat durst ask Him: Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord. And Jesus cometh, and taketh the bread and giveth them, and fish in like manner. It is through the eucharistic sharing in the broken bread that the disciples on the short, like the travellers on the road to Emmaus, come to know Jesus. It is through what is at one and the same time something humble and simple, yet also ineffable, beyond the power of words or reason to tease out, that the disciples then, and the Church ever since, has encountered and been encountered by the risen Lord.

We may sometimes find ourselves wanting another way, something more direct, more personalized, more immediate, but this is not Christ's way. Jesus is, however, no more distant from us through the proclamation of the Church and the common sharing in the Eucharist than he would be had we eaten bread and fish with him along the shore. He is just as close to us as to them, and we need fear no loss of standing where we stand, living where we live.

The Church whom Jesus loves speaks to us, as the beloved disciple spoke to Peter: It is the Lord. Are we ready to plunge into the sea to go and greet him?

We beseech Thee, O Lord, cleanse us from our old nature and, by the reverent reception of Thy Sacrament, change us into a new creature.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Tuesday

Acts 13:16, 26-33 / Luke 24:36-47

What will help the unbelieving world receive the Good News in Jesus Christ? After all, we seem to have a strong case: the public witness of his suffering and death, the well-attested places of Golgotha and the tomb, the absence of a body admitted by believers and unbelievers alike, and the multiple witnesses of Jesus risen from the dead, Who was seen for many days by them who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who to this present time are His witnesses to the people. It would seem that this should, at the very least, compel unbelievers to give the Gospel an attentive hearing.

However, we hear today in the Scriptures that even those who we might imagine we most and best prepared to receive Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Resurrection were unable by their own power to do so. As Paul preached in the synagogue in Antioch, they that inhabited Jerusalem, and the rulers thereof, not knowing Jesus, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath, judging Him have fulfilled them. How could this be? How could the very rulers in Jerusalem, the priests and scribes whose very life it was to know the Law of God and to heed the words of his prophets, how is it that such as these knew not the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath?

Nor are the priests and scribes of Jerusalem the only ones slow of heart to believe. Jesus' own disciples, gathered in the upper room, fail repeatedly to receive the visible, indeed literally palpable presence of the risen Christ in their midst. When he first appears and speaks words of peace, they supposed that they saw a spirit. When he presents his hands and feet and asks them to touch him to see that he is no spirit, but risen in his very flesh, they yet believed not, even if they wondered for joy. He asks food from them, shares what he himself does not eat, and reminds them of the words he spoke to them before his death on the Cross, that all things must needs be fulfilled that are written in the law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms concerning him. Even then, it was only by his merciful and gracious intervention that He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.

Is there anything, then, for us to do in the face of those who know not and receive not the Good News of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead? When those best able to know the Scriptures and to know what Jesus had taught could not come to believe apart from his gift of faith, is there anything we can say or speak to unbelief? We can, of course, and must proclaim the Gospel. We can, of course, and must respond to doubt, to misunderstanding, and to skepticism, both to those outside the Body of Christ and to those who are its members. We must do this hoping that God will work through our words to bring others to faith, but continue faithfully in this task even when our words are not received.

More than this, however, we must follow the express command of Jesus — penance and remission of sin should be preached in His name among all nations. Penance, not simply feeling remorse for bad deeds, but a real transformation of life, a turning away from everything one has known, even things delightful on their own terms, to embrace a way of life that answers the deepest desires of the heart. Remission of sin, not merely a forensic declaration that the evildoer is not free from punishment for his past wickedness, but a whole new principle of life, a share in the inexhaustible joy and immortal glory of God himself which makes the penance not simply a moral effort, but a partaking in the very source of bliss and being itself. This is what Jesus wants the world to hear. This is what we must help them to know, the glorious Good News that is the cause of our endless rejoicing. This is the key, they way past our hardened lines of resistance, the path to bypass our self-delusions of having already found the fount of our flourishing, to accept the Easter Evangel: It behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day.

In this joy, from this faith, we say to those yet to believe and those whose faith has grown cold: The Lord is risen from the sepulcher, Who for us hung upon a tree.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Monday

Acts 10:37-43 / Luke 24:13-35

There are two kinds of discoveries, two ways of coming upon insight and understanding, each delightful in its own way, but it would seem quite opposite in motion, one from the other. Sometimes we learn something altogether new, something we had not known, indeed could not know before. Nothing in ourselves, no resources of our own could provide what this other place, this other sight, this other person who enters our lives unknown before to us can reveal. So it is when we travel to places we have never been, visit or examine objects our eyes have never seen, or meet up with people for the very first time. This is indeed a delight, one which calls us out of ourselves, in which we are dependent on the openness of the other to make himself known, dependent on the generosity of others to announce to us their good news which, apart from their proclamation, would be for us as though it were not.

Other times, we learn something, most often about ourselves, that having learned, we realize we had indeed known, or at the very least could or should have known all along. We find that we had already the resources at hand, from within ourselves or our experiences, to provide that which only just now has attracted our attention and understanding. So it is when we discover, long after the fact, that we are in fact in love, and in that discovery much that we have thought, said, or done for days, weeks, even years comes before us with a clarity so vivid that we wonder we had ever been able not to know. This, too, is indeed a delight, one which calls us back to ourselves, in which we make full use of the resources we have had at hand all along, needing only to be open to a truth which is, while surprising to us, nonetheless in its own way altogether expected and familiar.

In the appearances of Christ, risen from the dead, to his disciples, we find that Jesus Christ has resolved and joined these two seemingly incompatible joys, the joy of learning what is altogether new from the words and deeds of another and the joy of seeing with clear vision what we find we have known all along. Peter, in his preaching to the people after the descent of the Holy Spirit, after recounting in brief the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, asserts that God has not made the Good News of eternal life generally known and available, accessible by each person on his own terms. Him God raised up the third day, and gave Him to be manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses preordained by God: even to us, who did eat and drink with Him, after He rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He Who was appointed by God to be the judge of the living and of the dead. Likewise, Cleopas and his travelling companion on the road to Emmaus find that while they talked and reasoned with themselves about Jesus, they nonetheless remained sad. It is in the encounter of the stranger on the road, Jesus Himself ... drawing near, that they are made open to the newness of what has happened. Jesus permits them the joy of telling him the things that have been done in Jerusalem, and the joyful signs of something unexpected — the angels appearing to the women and the sepulcher found empty. For his part, Jesus, still to them a stranger, gives them what they did not have. Was not our heart burning within us whilst He spoke in this way? Indeed, that this stranger was Jesus would be known to them not in their discover, but through his disclosure, the gift of the breaking of the bread.

At the same time, these stories remind us, as Peter reminds his hearers, as Jesus recalled to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, that what happened to Jesus, not only his death but also his glorious resurrection from the dead, ought really to have been both familiar and expected. As Peter proclaims, To Him all the prophets give testimony, that by His name all who believe in Him shall receive remission of sins. On the road to Emmaus, while their eyes were held that they should not know Him, the disciples in fact knew both Jesus and the Scriptures. As the risen Lord reminds them, O foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things that were concerning Him. In fact, the burning of their hearts from his way of speaking was not only because of what was new, but also because he opened to them the Scriptures. What Peter, Cleopas, and his companion came to see, and announced as privileged witnesses to those who did not see the risen Lord — The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. — is that what we most long to know, what we most long to hear, has already been spoken to us from of old, and when shown us, we marvel that we went so long in sadness.

Jesus Christ risen from the dead is ever fresh and ever new, come to us beyond our knowing and expectation, a gift from above which calls us out of our selves to receive at the hands of others. Jesus Christ risen from the dead is from of old, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, what any who has attended to the rhythm of the seasons, the natural wisdom of the sages, or the supernal wisdom of the prophets, ought already to have known. There is joy in the new. There is joy in the old. Turn wherever we like, and there stands the Lord Jesus, risen from the tomb. What, then, are these discourses that we hold one with another as we walk, and are sad?

The Lord is risen, and hath appeared to Peter, alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Sunday

1 Corinthians 5:7-8 / Mark 16:1-7

It is standard enough when reading the Gospels to contrast the behavior of the apostles, and indeed of all the men who followed Jesus apart from the disciple whom Jesus loved, with that of the holy women who followed him. Among the apostles most infamously numbered the one who betrayed him, but also can be found Peter's attempt to bypass the Cross by the force of his sword, his triple denial, and his painful absence from Golgotha. Indeed, all of the men save John, and perhaps Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, either fled or were at least absent at that final hour of Jesus' agony, and even Joseph and Nicodemus had been secret followers of the Lord. It was the women — Mary, his mother, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome — who stayed with Jesus to the end, tended to his broken body, ministering in the few hours they had before the sabbath, and who then returned very early in the morning, the first day of the week. The women, the common wisdom goes, kept faith, where the men were slow to believe.

If that is what we have led ourselves to believe, the Evangelist Mark quickly disabuses of us that notion. Mark reveals to us just what was on the mind of those women that early Sunday morning: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulcher? No less than the men, these women disciples had failed to understand what Christ had been teaching from the beginning of his ministry, and ever more urgently as he came to Jerusalem, that the Christ must be betrayed, must suffer and die and the hands of wicked men, and be raised on the third day. Yet, here they come, imagining that they are going to tend to a corpse. Their illusion is no less powerful, and no less confused, than Peter's, who thought to defend Jesus with a sword. They think that, while Jesus has failed, they might perhaps, by their own efforts, at least dignify his body which had been so cruelly mistreated.

Today, however, is not the day of recriminations. Peter was wrong, and so were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome. None of them was able to move from his experience and understanding to the mystery of Easter morning. The good news is that none of them had to! Apart from all their efforts, apart from all their failures, apart from their misunderstandings, they saw the stone rolled back. Into the confusion of their lives, the inadequacy of every human effort to cross the gulf between the broken world and the majesty of God, comes the empty Tomb, the stone rolled away, and the proclamation of the angel: Be not affrighted; ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified: He is risen, He is not here.

The joy of the resurrection, the joy of the empty Tomb, is the discovery that Jesus has anticipated even our failures to embrace him, our gaps in insight, our rebellions and denials. Jesus has seen what we would not see, has known how we will still want to make right what we know is beyond our power to correct. Yet, where we expected a great stone we could not move, we find the way already cleared. Where we thought we would have to puzzle our way through a mystery, there was the angel to announce to us what we both need to know and long to hear.

To the fearful, the empty Tomb is a message of courage and hope — Be not affrighted. To the seeker, it reveals the one who answers his questions and satisfies his desires — ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. To the doubter and the skeptic, it stands as an unconquerable witness to the truth of the Gospel — He is risen, He is not here; behold the place where they laid him. To the sluggish, it spurs on to action — But go, tell His disciples, and Peter, that He goeth before you into Galilee. To every aching heart, it promises the comfort of the presence of Jesus — there you shall see him. And to those who have received the faith but have wavered in their trust, it rekindles a confidence in his revealed word — as He told you.

The angel at the empty Tomb speaks to more than three women bearing myrrh. He speaks to every human soul, from the one who has lived long in the faith, to the newly baptized, to the seeker, and to those far off. The Lord is truly risen as he said. Death is conquered and the reign of sorrow is ended. Rejoice! Alleluia!

Holy Saturday

Genesis 1:1-31; 2:1-2 / Exodus 14:24-31; 15:1 / Isaiah 4:2-6 / Deuteronomy 31:22-30 / Colossians 3:1-4 / Matthew 28:1-7

The work of Friday is done. Before the great Sabbath, Jesus has completed his work on the Cross. By the timely and pious intercession of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, the body of Christ has been taken from the Cross, wrapped in linens with myrrh and aloes, and laid in the Tomb. At sunset, there is nothing left to be done. Nothing indeed can be done. How could one honor him who said that not a jot or tittle would be taken from the Law, and yet fail to observe the Sabbath rest? The pious women, who risked so much to remain at the foot of the Cross understood this well. From sunset on Friday, through the whole of the Sabbath rest, and even through the dark hours of the evening which began the first day of the week, there was nothing to be done. It was only very early, in the morning after the Sabbath, that the women would come with myrrh to complete the anointing of Jesus' body, an anointing that had been rushed of necessity, in honor of the rest demanded by the very God who had died upon the Cross.

Yet, not all rests on the sabbath. The sabbath, after all, was made for man. The rest of the creation, the angels in heaven, but just as much the mute creatures of the universe, the light and darkness, the sun and moon and stars, the waters of the earth, under the earth, and above the heavens, the teeming fish and monsters that swim in the seas, the birds of the air and the creeping things upon the ground, the plants and trees, the beasts and cattle — the whole work of the six days of creation apart from man continue their daily round of activity without a moment's rest. Even so, in their inarticulate way apart from reason or knowledge, their work is not ignorant of the redemption worked by God in Jesus Christ.

On this day of vigil and watching, while we keep silent and recall Jesus Christ, laid in the Tomb and breaking the infernal gates of brass and cutting down the hellish bars of iron, we do well also to remember what the rest of the cosmos, in its ceaseless activity, has done and continues to do to bring us to life everlasting. Let us remember the mother bee, whose gift of wax, the labor of the whole year, she presents to the Church as her evening offering, the pure source of the new light to usher in the dawn of the new creation. Let us recall also the holy and innocent creature of water. It was water that served its Creator and his chosen people by defeating the hosts of Egypt. It was water that flowed from the fountain of paradise to give drink to the whole world in the four great rivers, water that sustained the people Israel from a rock in the desert and turned for them from bitterness to sweetness, water which heralded our own transformation in Christ in being transformed at the wedding feast in Cana, supported the Lord's feet upon the sea to test the disciples' faith, and washed his body to reveal the gift of Baptism and proclaim the Holy Trinity. It is water that continues to serve in holy and joyful obedience to bring the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve to new life in the font.

Let us also attend today to the whole of creation, the heavens and the earth, to whom Moses spoke and commanded that they serve as witnesses both to our pledge to follow the Lord and to our numberless failures to live up to that promise. Let us give thanks to the earth which yielded to the advent of the angel, and in its terrible quaking, announced the victory of the Lord over Hell. Let us bless the great stone at the mouth of the Tomb, the unwilling seal of the Lord's body now become, by heavenly prompting, the seat of angels, from which the Gospel of the Resurrection is first announced to the myrrh-bearing women.

Our Friday work is done, and the Church today joins the Synagogue in observing the Sabbath. We know in truth, as she knows only in figure as through a veil, that for all of its silence, for all of our holding back our hand from work, today the Lord and the rest of his creation are busy. From a simple drop of water and a humble bee through the very stars and the hosts of angels, the world is gladly at work to help us announce tonight the victory of the Lord over sin and death.

Attend, O heaven, and I will speak: and let the earth hear the words that come out of my mouth. Let my speech be expected like the rain: and let my words fall like the dew. Like the shower upon the grass, and like the snow upon the dry herb, because I will invoke the name of the Lord. Confess the greatness of our God: the works of God are perfect, and all His ways are justice. God is faithful, in Whom there is no iniquity: the Lord is just and holy.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

Hosea 6:1-6 / Exodus 12:1-11 / John 18:1-40; 19:1-42

Consummatum est. It is finished. It's over. It's done.

Whether we are happy or not to hear those words depends a great deal on what it is that has been finished. After an examination at university, or a root canal, or an interrogation by the police, we are no doubt delighted to hear those words. Whatever the outcome, we would not want to go through that again. Indeed, we would like to imagine that the world would forget the whole thing and move on to happier thoughts. On the other hand, at the end of a well-performed play, or having finished a particularly enjoyable book, when the lights come up at the end of a dance, or when the proprietor of a public house hollers out for the last call, we mourn the end. We might wish, if we could, to stay in those moments that have now come to an end. Whatever the outcome, we would trade whatever the world has to offer to go back to that time that is now finished. However, whether sad or merry, these folk see finishing as a kind of ending, the passing of something which will never be again, whose reality will pass into history with ever lessening impact on the present.

There is another kind occasion for calling out Consummatum est. When an artist steps back from his canvas and sees that not one more bit of paint need be added, when an author looks at the manuscript and sees that not one more word should be written, when a chef has put the final touch on the dessert — in these and many occasions like them, the finishing is not an end, but rather a beginning. To finish a painting is not the end, but the beginning of art's true flourishing, even as to have prepared a meal finds its completion not in the display on the table, but on the satisfied diners.

When Jesus cried out Conummatum est from the Cross, he was not letting out a sigh of relief to have endured the Passion to a painful end, but an end nonetheless. True as it is that Jesus dies no more and death has no more dominion over him, this was not the kind of finishing he had in mind. Rather, like a painting, a novel, or a banquet, what Jesus finishes on the Cross is something which, from that point on, begins to be what his whole earthly ministry had been building up from the time of his Incarnation. On the Cross, having endured all the betrayal, brutality, and shame, being in the end exposed to the heart-piercing pain of witnessing his mother's grief, Jesus does not end his work, but begins it, begins that new life, that new sharing in the life of the blessed Trinity that his whole coming to the world had meant to offer us.

We are told often enough that we need to move from Golgotha to the empty Tomb, and there is much wisdom in that claim. Even so, we are mistaken to see on that awful Tree only death and desolation, only barren wood from which nothing living can come forth. No, the Cross is not a place of endings, but a place of beginnings, a place of completing the preparations he had intended from before the dawn of time. It is the place of our birth, from the blood and water flowing from his side. It is where the glory of our God was manifest to the world, and for it we are rightly not mourning, but glad.

Faithful Cross! above all other, one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thy peer may be.
Sweetest Wood, and sweetest Iron, Sweetest Weight is hung on thee.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday (The Mass of the Last Supper)

1 Corinthians 11:20-32 / John 13:1-15

For I have received from the Lord that which I also delivered unto you ...

Why would we hand over something that had been given to us? We might do so because we have been forced to do so, in which case we do so with sadness. We might do so because what we have, while appreciated and treasured in its own way, but which is no longer of use to us, no longer fits the man or woman we have become, and this too is often filled with sadness, or at least bittersweet. We might do so because what he had been given is indifferent or even positively loathsome to us, and parting with it could not be done soon enough.

There are some things we have received, however, that handing on to someone else is at one and the same time a cause for joy and yet eagerly done. We share good news this way or a cake we have just baked. At a more profound level, we teach our children language, culture, how to get along in the world, and in doing so hope not to make them into ourselves, but, by equipping them with the means of being human even as we had been so equipped by our parents, hope to help them come to be the very new, wonderful, interesting people they are. Indeed, we are careful to hand on not what it idiosyncratic and peculiar, but what is shared, precisely because it is in this shared life that the rich diversity of every individual can blossom.

This is why Paul is so particular in insisting that what he has to teach about the Eucharist in Corinth is not some peculiar opinion of his own. He is not asking the Corinthian Christians to fail to be the special gift to the whole body of Christ that they are called to be. Indeed, it is Paul himself who reminds us of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts. Even so, Paul knows that to partake of the Eucharist is to partake of that gift of the Lord Jesus' own self, his body and blood, broken and poured out for the life of the world. To share in that reality here and now is to be in communion with what Jesus did on that fateful Thursday night, and in so doing to eat and drink his Passion and Death, and with him rise just as surely as he did on the third day.

To want to do anything else, to want to reconceive, to plan, to organize, to theorize about the Eucharist is to reject the very gift of life it has to offer. There is no freedom, no assertion of my individual graces through a fabricated Lord's Supper of my own devising. It is only in the Eucharist received from the generations of old, who themselves received and passed on what they had received from the Lord — it is only here that we can discover the full flowering of the New Adam in whose life we have been called to share.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday in Holy Week

Isaiah 62:11; 63:1-7 / Isaiah 53:1-12 / Luke 22:39-71; 23:1-53

Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought Him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.

Most of us probably take mirrors for granted. While it may be true that infants do not seem to recognize the image in the mirror as a reflection of themselves until the age of at least fifteen to eighteen months, for our conscious memory, the fact that the face gazing upon us is our own is for most everyone neither surprising nor worrisome. Psychiatrists, however, have noted a phenomenon which they call mirrored-self misidentification. As a result of this delusion, the afflicted person does not recognize that the image in a reflective surface such as a mirror is his own. Indeed, he is likely to regard the image as someone else entirely, even if occupying a world "out of his reach" or "beyond the mirror." Even in those cases when he admits the reflection to be a "dead-ringer" for himself, persons thus deluded are simply unable to see what seems to them as someone altogether other as actually no one but themselves.

In Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant, Israel is confronted with the a figure quite terrible to behold, a man positively repulsive — there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen Him, and there was no sightliness that we should be desirous of Him ... and His look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed Him not. The prophet then turns the tables on us. Where we imagined we had been looking upon the ugliness of alterity, the horrible visage of someone altogether other, the prophet tells us that He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows ... He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. In short, all the wounds, and the brokenness, all the disfigurement in his appearance was nothing other than a reflection of our own selves. We had collectively suffered the delusion of mirrored-self misidentification, and we had taken the abjection of the Man of Sorrows to be something other than an unobscured image of the lives we had already crafted for ourselves.

What, then, are we to do when faced with the vision of the body of the Savior, bruised, beaten, bloodied, and broken, nailed to the wood of the awful Tree? We might, of course, continue in our delusion, and even consider as pathological those who kneel before this despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity, and in solidarity with the wicked robber crucified with the Lord, we would blaspheme him, even as we die the same terrible death. We might, when coming to realize that his abjection is a reflection of our own, recoil in despair, and failing to see any hope in such horror, go out with Judas to the Field of Blood to meet our doom.

Or, we might see in the mirror-self which Jesus presents to us a kind of mercy. As Perseus was able to look upon the lethal visage of Medusa by gazing upon the reflection in his shield, so did Jesus present to us the ugliness of our sins in his own holy, innocent body, where we might gaze in safety so as better to put to death in us what would harden us had we confronted it by our own power. Like the good thief crucified with Jesus, we can know the hideous wounds and fate of Jesus as our own deserts, and in the kindness of that reflection, make both full confession of our fault and plead for that undeserved joy for which we nonetheless long: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due rewards of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil ... Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom.

Let us cast our gaze upon the Crucified. Let us see in his merciful ugliness an image of ourselves, set before us not to strike us down, nor turn our hearts to stone, but that we might turn back to him. Having thus opened our eyes, let us open our ears as well, and hear that voice from the Cross which we longed to hear from the day we came alive in the waters of the font: Amen I say to thee: This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.

Look down, we beseech Thee, O Lord, on this Thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ did not shrink from being delivered into the hands of the wicked and undergoing the torments of the cross.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday in Holy Week

Jeremiah 11:18-20 / Mark 14:32-72; 15:1-46

And they forced one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by out coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and of Rufus, to take up His cross.

According to the heretical Gnostic Gospel called the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, as in all Gnostic error, it was not in fact Jesus who suffered the Passion and Death on the Cross, but another. Jesus, according to this view, remained altogether free from harm, to his scornful delight of the wicked and their impotent frustration. Indeed, according to the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, it was not merely that Jesus did not endure the Passion; it was another who did so in his place. According to this dark and damnably misguided text, that person was Simon of Cyrene: But in doing these things, they condemn themselves. Yes, they saw me; they punished me. It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. It was another upon Whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the wealth of the archons and the offspring of their error, of their empty glory. And I was laughing at their ignorance.

This is, of course, a terrible error, one which would divest the Cross of all of its power. It is also one with a fairly long life, one which found its way into another, far more widely dispersed text, the Qur'an (4:155-157) — And [We cursed them] for their breaking of the covenant and their disbelief in the signs of Allah and their killing of the prophets without right and their saying, "Our hearts are wrapped". Rather, Allah has sealed them because of their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few. And [We cursed them] for their disbelief and their saying against Mary a great slander, and [for] their saying, "Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah ." And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Even admitting that there exists a tradition in the reading of this verse that does not insist that the crucifixion itself did not happen, for most of the Muslim past and present, God is understood to have rescued Jesus from the Cross, and, in a terrible inversion of the Man of Sorrows bearing the sins of the whole world and healing us by his stripes, to have had another, made to resemble him, die in his place.

Although we must reject these claims, Gnostic and Muslim, as grave error, we would do well to consider what would make such kind of error so attractive to people who, at least on their own terms, seek to honor God and Jesus Christ as the one he has sent into the world. How easy is it for us to witness not just anyone, nor merely someone good, not simply someone both good and altogether innocent, indeed not only one good and innocent, but also sent by God to lead us into all truth, but God himself to suffer such petty, vindictive, pitiless, and tragically all to common and routine violence at the hands, in one and the same time, of his own beloved people and of a foreign people who had no reason to wish him any ill?

In the face of such stupefying indignity, we incline to one of two places. We might want God, at the last minute perhaps, or chuckling to himself all along as the Great Seth's Christ is said to do, to turn the tables on the evildoers and mete out upon them the gory horror they had prepared for him. Our sentiment, even if bloodthirsty, has its echo in the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah: But Thou, O Lord of Sabaoth, Who judgest justly and triest the reins and the hearts, let me see Thy revenge on them: for to Thee have I revealed me cause, O Lord my God. Let it be someone else — Judas Iscariot made to resemble Christ, Simon of Cyrene, the earthly man whose body had been used for a time but now discarded by the Christ — let it turn out to be anyone else but God who suffered! Let not those hands, the very hands of God, be pierced with nails, nor let the human flesh of the divine Word be torn by cruel scourges. Let it not, we cry out, be God who cried out with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. Or, if it must be the Son of God made flesh who so suffers, let us be able to do something about it. Let us, like one of his disciples, draw a sword and strike those wicked servants who sought to take him with swords and staves as though come out as to a robber.

Jesus, however, will have none of this, and Gospel truth denies us any way around the Cross, the awful terrible, and yet all the more sublimely beautiful love of God himself, bloody and broken upon the wood at Golgotha. We can play our part, of course. We can repent like Peter, slip away reduced to nothing but our nakedness like the unnamed disciple in Gethsemane, attend in tearful vigil with the holy women, or use our riches and influence to promote the reverent devotion to the Lord like Joseph of Arimathea. We may even, like Simon of Cyrene, be forced to help Jesus carry his Cross.

What we cannot do apart from his doing it in us, is die as he did. As close as Simon the Cyrenian came to partake of the Passion, his was ultimately the same role of the others: to witness the glory of God, and to be transformed thereby. The Cross is not simply and indignity suffered by a good man in a wayward world, a good from which we would hope to free anyone we love, and most especially the Lord. Nor is the Cross a moral model writ large, a terrible lesson for each of us to repeat. No, the Cross is most truly what God has done for us. It is God's way of inaugurating us into his life, to die to our old selves by being made one with him, and if one in him in life, then one in him in death and the rising to new life which will surely follow.

May Thy mercy, O God, free us from the least return of our old nature, and enable us to be formed anew unto holiness.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday in Holy Week

Isaiah 50:5-10 / John 12:1-9

Faithful witness to the Gospel can seem at times like thin gruel to feed a hungry world. When we witness the poor and homeless on our own streets, when we hear about the hundreds of millions of people in the world who do not have enough to eat, many of whom, indeed most of whom, are children, we might well find our hand falter when fishing in our pocket for a euro, a dollar, or a pound for a votive candle, or when writing a check for the new tabernacle veil at the parish. Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor? We may blush for a moment to find that the words of Judas come so easily to our own lips. Even so, we let the shame pass, or gladly endure it, if we can free even one child from spending one more day in hunger.

It is in the face of just such ills that our faith in Jesus Christ is put to the test. Do we believe that Jesus is who we say he is, that he is in fact the eternal Son of God, the Savior of the world, who by his Passion and Cross has purchased for us eternal life, and that in him we may share the glory of his kingdom, where there is no sorrow or weeping, and every tear will be wiped away? We say we believe this; we confess it daily. If true, however, it means that how we help others come to Christ is not simply as important, it is indeed exceedingly more important than any other good we can do for them. Even the smallest witness, if it should bring only one person to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, is of infinite value, more good than all the woes of the world past, present, and yet to come.

This is why forthright witness of the Gospel is indispensable. When Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, we are told that the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. Lazarus, merely by being alive, became a living Gospel, and thus a source of life for those who had only just heard his name: A great multitude therefore of the Jews knew that He was there, and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. Neither of these acts was profound in itself, the one intimate and private in character, the other altogether passive. All the same, they had both of them an impact which extended far beyond themselves, and would lead many, for countless generations to come, to eternal life in Christ Jesus. As the Jesus promises in Matthew's Gospel of Mary's generous service, Amen I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told in memory of her. Where bellies might have been filled for a day with the money gained should the ointment have been sold, the simply witness of the brother and sister of Bethany have had, and continue to have, the power to lead the hungry of the world to the source of life eternal.

So, then, how do we measure the fidelity of our witness? Do we simply count the number of mouths fed? Do we tally up our donations to honor and magnify the Lord? Or, do we remember that there is no proportion between any act of ours, whether feeding the hungry or adorning the edifices of our worship, and the unsurpassable good that is Jesus Christ? We can, of course, be sure that no one gives authentic witness to the Gospel who is deaf to the cries of the poor, and offers only words of hope when real material assistance is also at hand. We can likewise be sure that no material assistance is of any good for a heart unconverted, and that even the shortest of lives on earth can be the seed of unending joy. More than any of this, however, is Jesus Christ himself, who is the source and summit, the Alpha and Omega, the very pattern and goal and creator of all that is. The Gospel is not, and never has been, meant to direct us back to the affairs of the world, whether in generous service to neighbor or pious service to God. To be a Christian is rather to direct all of the affairs of the world, our justice, our piety, and our charity, back to the source from which they come, to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Help us, O God, our Savior: and vouchsafe that we may celebrate with joy the memory of those benefits by which Thou didst deign to redeem us.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Second Sunday of Passiontide (Palm Sunday)

Matthew 21:1-9 / Philippians 2:5-11 / Matthew 26:36-75; 27:1-60

Sleep ye now and take your rest; behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Today we march in procession with the Lord and join in his triumphal entry into the holy city, Jerusalem. Today we hear once again that story, at once heart-breaking and heart-warming, dark and terrible in its betrayals and uplifting beyond words in divine love poured out for the sinful and unworthy through the unbearable pain of the Passion and even more terrible pains of the Cross. Today we also look back on where we have come since Ash Wednesday. We look back, and we blush in shame. Who among us has kept to the high hopes of transformation promised those many weeks ago? For whom has this Lent been an occasion to stay and watch with the Lord, making full use of every opportunity to return to him from whom we have wandered?

Three times in the Garden of Gethsemane did the Lord Jesus Christ ask his closest among the disciples, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, the very ones whom he had graced and strengthened with the vision of his glory on Tabor in his Transfiguration, graced and strengthened for this very hour, to remain awake with him. Three times did these ones, so dear to him and he must have wished he would have been to them, fail to remain awake. What! Could you not watch one hour with Me?

What new insight was lost, what opportunity to grow in faith, hope, and charity by sharing with the Lord in his agony? With what comfort was our Lord deprived, from what occasion to draw nearer to their Lord and friend were these dear apostles bereft by their slumbering? We do not know, we cannot know the goods they, and through their failure we have lost. That there was a good intended for them, intended for us through them, we can be certain from the threefold invitation, from the pleading of a heart which might so justifiably had only its own interests to consider and dread.

Even so, Peter, James, and John receive no recrimination from Jesus. They are not chastised for their slumber. Indeed, Jesus, when he sees that they cannot remain awake, invites, perhaps even commands, that they get the rest which, even against their better selves, they have been fitfully taking during their intended vigil. Sleep ye now, says the Lord, and take your rest.

We, too, have fallen asleep when we ought to have been keeping vigil. We, too, have no doubt lost some real opportunities for growth in faith, hope, and charity this Lent in our soul's sleep when it might well have been more vigilant. Still, what is done is done. There is no turning back. Graces passed by are never offered in the same way again. The good news of this is, however, is that Jesus does not ask us to go back. He does not want us to dwell on ills of the past, on opportunities missed. Without for a moment suggesting to us that real goods have been lost, Jesus directs us, as he directed his disciples in Gethsemane, to the incomparable and inexhaustible good of his betrayal by his own people and one of his intimate friends, of his suffering at the hands of wicked and indifferent unbelievers, and his agony and death upon the Cross, undergone not simply as a result of our sins, but freely, knowingly, willingly, and even happily for the sake of sinners. That is to say, for our sake, who could not stay awake, even for one hour.

If we would make a final commitment this Holy Week, let it be to set aside whatever we have managed to accomplish or have failed to do this Lent. Whether we have been vigilant or slumbered, nothing we have done measures in any way when held against the Cross. Our successes, even as our failures, are as nothing in the awful glory of that fateful wood.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday in Passion Week

Jeremiah 18:18-23 / John 12:10-36

In the film The Passion of the Christ (2004), the audience sees what no other characters in the film see, save Jesus himself and, for one brief moment along the Via dolorosa, the Blessed Mother. What we see, as the others do not, is that the whole drama of the Passion, from the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, through the trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, from the pillar of the scourging to atop the hill of Calvary, has been a contest between the Son of God and the Evil One. While every one else in the drama, from the most public persons like Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, to those who remain to us unknown, like the soldier who scourged Jesus or the Jews who left the Sanhedrin in disgust, must take full responsibility for his role in the betrayal, suffering, and death of the Lord, none of them ever really understood what it was all about. Even the most wicked of them, it turns out, were not Christ's true antagonists but rather among those for whom he suffered.

While this way of presenting the Passion is only one interpretation, it is not without its echoes in the Scriptures. As prefigured in the suffering of Jeremiah, we see Jeremiah's opponents speak as though Jeremiah is ultimately unimportant, that things could go on as usual even if he were no longer around, ultimately and tragically ignorant of the doom which awaits Jerusalem from without, a doom against which Jeremiah had been sent to warn them. Even Jeremiah is set off track, hurling his invectives and curses not against those who would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, but against his fellow Jews, their children, their wives and husbands, and their young sons. This theme of missing the point, of not seeing what and who is important, is all the more sharpened in Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The chief priests begin to turn their murderous plots against Lazarus as well as Jesus. The Gentiles who come to worship, and Philip and Andrew who plead their cause, think that Jesus' coming to Jerusalem is just one more opportunity for him to teach, one more chance to show up the priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees. They are all of them, every one of them, wrong.

Now is the judgment of the world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself. As in Mel Gibson's movie, so here in the Gospel Jesus is clear: the moment of his glory, his hour for which he had so long been waiting, putting off requests even from the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana, the hour to be glorified by his Father, that is to say the hour of his terrible suffering and death on the Cross, has come. This hour, the hour of his glory, are not, and never were, about settling arguments with the Pharisees, the scribes, and the priests, were never about setting forth an answer to every question posed by questioning Jew or curious Gentile, never about any of these things. Of course, these things he did, and they have their right and proper role in the work of salvation. Still, when it comes down to it, the hour of Jesus' glory if the hour of his victory over the prince of this world, over the Accuser, the Evil One, the Devil.

As we begin Holy Week, we would do well to remember from whose power we have been delivered, whose downfall marked the glory of the Son of God. We would do well to note that all of our earthly adversaries, even those with the most hardened of hearts who will us the gravest ill, are also, perhaps even more so, the intended beneficiaries of the saving work of Christ as we are. This insight is, in the face of opposition or indifference, hard to hold in our minds. We might, then, pay heed to Jesus' own words to the crowd: Yet a little while the light is among you. Walk whilst you have the light, that the darkness overtake you not; ... Whilst you have the light, believe in the light: that you may be the children of light.

Let your right hand, we beseech Thee, O Lord, guard Thy people who call upon Thee, and duly instruct and purify them: that by this present consolation they may be encouraged to look forward to further benefits.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday in Passion Week

Jeremiah 17:13-18 / John 11:47-54

But one of them, named Caiphas, being the High Priest that year, said to them: You know nothing, neither do you consider that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people.

"One word that tells us what we do not know outweighs a thousand words that tell us what we do know. And the thing is all the more striking if we not only did not know it but could not believe it. It may seem a paradox to say that the truth teaches us more by the words we reject than by the words we receive. Yet the paradox is a parable of the simplest sort and familiar to us all; ... The warning itself is almost more impressive if it was not justified by reasons, but only by results. There is something very notable about a thing which is arbitrary when it is also accurate. We may very easily forget, even while we fulfil, the advice we thought was self-evident sense. But nothing can measure our mystical and unfathomable reverence for the advice that we thought was nonsense." (G.K. Chesterton, "The Catholic Church and Conversion")

Jesus claims on us are as fresh and new, and also as shocking, as they were during his earthly ministry. The absolute claims that he has over us, our lack of any court of appeal, any higher authority, any third-party perspective to consult should we find, as we inevitably will, something about the Gospel offensive to us, leave us no middle position. We know it will not do if we let Him alone. Like the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered in council against Jesus, we must either receive him as the promised Messiah and Son of God, and thus surrender even our dearest and most treasured lines of rebellion while exposing ourselves to the hatred of the world, or we must devise to put Him to death. After all, is there no weakness of our flesh, in the lives of our kin, in the political system we want to support, in the ordering of our own economies and those of our society, which we simply cannot bring ourselves to reject, but know they stand opposed to the Lord Jesus? Is there truly no doctrine, no claim of the Church in her administration of the sacraments, no claims Jesus Christ himself makes of his own absolute, unique, and universal role as Lord and Savior that do not make us at least wonder, when we consider our own doubts or the unbelief of our neighbors and friends, whether it might not be so?

God in his mercy knows that, if we would share in his life and have a taste of it even now, then much of what we believe will seem to us arbitrary, even if it is accurate. This is why, in his kindness, Jesus directs our eyes away from the glorious clarity of his own self, too much for the eyes of our minds to bear while in this vale of tears, so strong as to make the pitiless calculations of the world, even when they unknowingly reveal the deep mysteries of God, seem attractive — it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. This is why Jesus walked no more openly among the Jews: but He want into a country near the desert. It is there, in the desert, where Jesus abode with His disciples, in the shade of his glory, that Jesus directs our gaze: to the Scriptures that attest to him, to the many miracles and signs he has done, to the example of those who testify about him not with signs of power but with words that are true and a life rightly lived. It is in this merciful shade that our eyes can grow used to the glory imparted to us in this life, but even here we will never be able to look upon the whole truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. To us, here and now, the Gospel remains always "not justified by reasons, but only by results ... a thing which is arbitrary when it is also accurate."

We will soon begin the celebration of Holy Week, and the eyes of the world will be upon us. The world will be even happier than we are in our darkness that one man should die for the people. However, the world is a coward, and faced with the terrible glory of the Crucified, the powers of the world, like the powers of the air, are more like to come, and take away our place and nation. That is, unable to look upon the face of the Savior without trembling, the world will turns its gaze upon his disciples. When they look upon our witness, our works, what kind of sign will we be? In our fidelity to Christ, in our life bound together by the Spirit, will those who count themselves enemies of the Cross see only the worst they fear about us, or will they perhaps be led to see in us joy, hope, the promise of life eternal, the vein of living waters?

Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we who seek the grace of Thy protection, may be freed from all evils and serve Thee with a quiet mind.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday in Passion Week

Daniel 3:25, 34-45 / Luke 7:36-50

When we invite people into our lives, whether for a brief event like a dinner party or for a longer commitment, perhaps a business venture or even a hoped for friendship, we keep an eye out for offense. To sit someone at our dinner table when we know his presence may well prove unpleasant for us our for our guests, to join in commercial matters with someone who, by his demeanor and behavior drives clients away, to knowingly pursue friendship with someone who exposes us to ridicule by those whose approval we value — such choices to not normally characterize the man of prudence. We may not want to believe that potential offense need be the principal thought in our minds. All the same, we would seem foolish, even thoughtless, in failing to attend to it.

How troubling, then, that Jesus should prove such an inevitable scandal. When the Pharisee invited Jesus to his house, indeed desired Jesus to eat with him, he must have hoped that the Galilean's occasional public offenses would not darken his door. Or, perhaps he had hoped to see what kind of man Jesus was, still sitting on the fence, and looking for evidence whether this man of whom much had been told was indeed a prophet. True to form, but not to the Pharisee's hopes for a polite dinner with his friends and associates, Jesus was scandalous, and allowed a woman that was in the city, a sinner, to wash His feet with tears, and wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kiss His feet, and anoint them with the ointment she brought in an alabaster box. Perhaps to his disappointment in Jesus, but surely also with anxiety about appearances of a supposed holy man allowing such brazen ministrations by a woman of ill repute, the Pharisee was inclined to change his mind: This man, if He were a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: that she is a sinner.

As concerned as we can be, even rightly concerned, about offense and scandal, when we have our wits about us, we also know that there are times when such worries must be cast aside. When there is a good we pursue, a good we know we must have for any hope of happiness, then it is not only possible, it is necessary that we endure even the most shameful humiliation to get it. The man who has fallen in love with the woman he knows he must marry cannot be excused, morally or otherwise, should he fail to proclaim her publicly as his beloved, even over the known objections of his family and friends. The woman who has fallen on hard times as needs to feed her family not only can but must endure whatever shame she feels in seeking out help from neighbor, Church, and State to feed herself and those in her care.

This is the truth known by the woman in the Gospel. She surely was aware of her reputation, and indeed was likely aware that it was deserved. Likewise she knew that to arrive at the house of the Pharisee, to act in such a public way in loving and tender care and devotion for Jesus, would invite the scorn of all around her. So also Hananiah in his prayer for the people of Israel. He knew that Israel had been diminished more than any nation, and ... brought low in all the earth for its sins. He was also fully aware that, because of its humiliation, Israel had deprived itself of all of the means God had provided to call upon his mercy: Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet, or holocaust, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place of first-fruits before Thee, that we may find Thy mercy. Hananiah, like the woman in the Gospel, knows that it is only in a contrite heart and humble spirit that he can come before God. Israel, like the woman of ill repute, must cast aside all pretense, must parade itself before all in a reckless act of devotion, going to the sole hope for happiness there ever had been, to the Lord God, to our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is no convenient time to turn back to the Lord. There is no best, respectable way to call upon the Spirit as our Advocate to plead and pray when our own words fail us and we do not know what to say. There is no conformity to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ that does not involve our being crushed, contritus, humiliated, and raised up for all the world to see. This is the emptiness, the shame, which we embrace in our seeking to be made more like Christ. To do so while wanting to have a name in the world is to remain forever outside knowing the forgiving love of Christ: Who is this that forgiveth sins also? To stand in full view, to be brazen in our shameful love for the shameful Christ, this is what it means to have loved much, what it means to find the joy we seek: Thy faith has saved thee: go in peace.

Be gracious to Thy people, we beseech Thee, O Lord: that they may reject whatever displeaseth Thee and rather be filled with the delights of Thy commandments.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday in Passion Week

Leviticus 19:1, 2, 11-19 / John 10:22-38

Among gamers, there is now and again a debate, sometimes fiercely argued, between those who propose that a certain result in the game either should or should not be allowed. On the one side are those who support the "rules as written" (RAW) approach, and on the other side are those who suggest that one should play instead the "rules as intended" (RAI). Generally, the debate flare up when following the rules as written produces an unexpected result, either far more restricting than one might have desired or far more generous than one would reasonably presume. According to the RAW crowd, such results are part of the game, and being a good gamer means precisely discovering these opportunities the rules provide, maximizing positive results and minimizing the negative. In contrast, the RAI supporters note that no set of rules, however well written, could presume every eventuality, and their very wording presumes both the actual experience of normal players and their reasonable goals and expectations. On their view, one might need to overlook, even ignore, a rule as written if and when its application evidently flies in the face of the very goals the game intended.

It does not seem terribly important to resolve this ludic conflict in any global way; someone who prefers RAW should simply be aware when his fellow gamers are playing RAI, and vice versa. However, the same dispute haunts our attempts to receive in fidelity God's holy Law. Keep ye My laws. For I am the Lord your God. What the Lord God demanded of the children of Israel — refraining from theft, from deceit and lies, from swearing falsely and profaning the Lord's name, from calumny, oppression, and violence, from delaying the remuneration of workers, from taking advantage of the weak, disadvantaged, or disabled, from perverting justice through bias, from speaking ill of others truthfully or falsely, from failing to defend another's life, from sliding from just publid denunciation to hatred and revenge, and much more besides — we know to be binding not only on them, but on those reborn to new life in Jesus Christ. However, how should we be faithful? Is the moral life to be lived out RAW, and can we morally, by keeping to what is prescribed, take advantage of the unexpected liberty such an approach might afford us? Or, is the moral life a matter of RAI, and may we legitimately ignore various precepts of the Law when obeying them would seem to undermine the whole moral project? Moreover, why, if God should ask us to be just in a fallen world, does he not tell us plainly what he wants of us, rather than expect us to muddle our way through general principles to admittedly heartbreakingly difficult cases?

There is another position other than RAW and RAI, of course. Both of these approaches presume the designer of the rules, the author of the Law, is distant and inaccessible, and that his rules are perhaps less clear than we might like. However, what if the Lawgiver were closer to us that we to ourselves? What if we only have a hard time knowing what he asks of us, and what he reveals to us, to the extent that we are wandering from his flock, or even not among his sheep? Jesus assures us that when he speaks, he does so in a way that makes sense to his own sheep, the sheep of his flock — My sheep hear my voice: and I know them, and they follow Me. If he seems to evade clarity and plain speech, it is not because there is anything lacking in what he says. Rather, it is because we are listening not with the ears he renewed in our baptism, but with the ears of the old man, the man of sin.

Said differently, the life Jesus asks of us does not require difficult and tortured questions about whether we can or should apply this or that part of the Law. To the extent that we have been transformed by his saving grace, become his sheep, we will then, as though by a second nature, incline to his voice and follow wherever he leads. This is why we need not fear if we are playing the game aright. Our shepherd Jesus Christ has promised of his sheep that they shall not perish forever, and no man shall pluck them out of My hand.

Do we live the Law according to the rules as written or the rules as intended? Let us ask instead, do we hear the voice of the shepherd, and when he calls, do we follow his voice to life everlasting?

Listen to our supplications, O almighty God, and graciously bestow the effect of Thy wonted mercy upon us, to whom Thou grantest confidence in Thy loving kindness.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday in Passion Week

Daniel 14:27-42 / John 7:1-13

During the seven days Daniel spent in the lion's den, what did the lions eat? We are told that in the den there were seven lions, and they had given them two carcasses every day, and two sheep: but then they were not given unto them, that they might devour Daniel. Daniel, we are told, was sustained by the boiled pottage and bread in a bowl which the prophet Habakkuk had prepared to bring to the reapers at work in the field in Judea. We might well imagine, then, that there was more than enough food for one man in the pottage and bread prepared for a whole team of hungry farmhands. What of the lions, then?

One of the striking features of the story of Daniel in the lion's den is the way that God's plan to deliver Daniel turns out to be at least as much, if not more, a story of God's deliverance of all those who are burdened. To be sure, Daniel is grateful for the freedom he derives at God's hand: in the miraculous transport of Habakkuk with this pottage and bread by the Angel of the Lord who carried him by the hair of his head from Judea to Babylon, there to provide food and, more importantly, hope for Daniel; in the guarding him from the lions who went without any food themselves; and in the return of the king of Babylon who drew him out of the lion's den. Thou hast remembered me, O God, proclaimed Daniel, even before his final deliverance, and Thou hast not forsaken them that love Thee.

However, what is curious and striking are the other freedoms we see. For Habakkuk, prophet for the beleaguered people of Judah, God provides a wider sense of the extent of his mercy. Habakkuk had intended an altogether laudable act in the feeding of laborers, but God called him to assist a prophet he knew not in a land he knew not in a predicament he knew not: Lord, I never saw Babylon, nor do I know the den. From being the prophet of a small, reduced people, Habakkuk becomes the deliverer for a prophet whose liberation would inspire the ultimate freedom of the captives of Israel to return to the Land of Promise.

For the king of Babylon, pressed upon ... violently: and being constrained by necessity through the influence of the wicked and self-serving priests of Bel and keepers of the dragon, the cult of the former and the life of the latter being destroyed by Daniel, Daniel's deliverance from the lions becomes an occasion to be free from the false gods and their priests. From being reduced to fear by this false religion, the king, seeing Daniel safe, can assert his own royal dignity as well as the dignity of the true God: And the king cried out with a loud voice, saying: Great art Thou, O Lord, the God of Daniel. And he drew him out of the lion's den. But those that had been the cause of his destruction, he cast into the den, and they were devoured in a moment before him. Then the king said: Let all the inhabitants of the whole earth fear the God of Daniel: for He is the Savior, working signs and wonders in the earth; Who hath delivered Daniel out of the lion's den.

And what of the lions? These poor creatures had also been burdened, fed at the good pleasure of the priests of Bel, and starved when it suited their purpose. Their natural desire to eat, the hunger that all animals know in their daily contest to survive, had been engineered, instrumentalized in the desire of these false worshippers of false gods to be rid of the holy prophet of the Lord God. However, whether by the restraining power of the Angel of the Lord, the charisms poured upon Daniel, or perhaps some non-rational echo of fasting for the sake of righteousness, these lions embraced suffering and hunger so that they might serve that end for which they were made, the greater glory of God. All the more fitting, then, that they could break their fast by feasting on the very men who had so abused their nature need to eat, perverting the right relationship God had intended for the sons of Adam, the sons of Noah, to show to the brute beasts under their dominion.

We have turned to the Lord for weeks now, since Ash Wednesday, for deliverance from the perils that assail us, and perhaps like Daniel we have received help from unlikely places, in ways unplanned and unforeseen by us and by those who helped us. Our helpers may have been already inclined to do the good, but did not expect for us to be their beneficiaries. Our helpers may have been those who were themselves under the burden of the pressure and coercion of others, and in their helping us, found a way to be free. Or, we may even have found help in the voiceless creation, in the setting of the sun, the flight of a bird of prey, or the timid scurry of a mouse, an echo, not willed by the creatures but willed by him upon whom they were patterned, the eternal Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lent has never been simply about our own deliverance from sin. Said better, our own being set free from the chains of sin and death, of false desires and diabolical deceit, has always been both so that others might share in our liberation. While our sins are always our own, our gracious freedom won by Jesus Christ is always delightfully and abundantly shared.

Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, a persevering obedience to Thy will: that in our day the people who serve Thee may increase both in merit and in number.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday in Passion Week

Jonah 3:1-10 / John 7:32-39

God in His mercy made
The fixed pains of Hell.
That misery might be stayed,
God in His mercy made
Eternal bounds and bade
Its waves no further swell.
God in his mercy made
The fixed pains of Hell.

Is it ever too late in this life to turn our life around and return to God? Is there ever a point, before we taste of death, that we become truly and irrevocably fixed in our decision for or against the Lord? As we believe in the four last things — Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven — so we must also hold that the answer to these questions is indeed yes. Anyone who, after death, receives his judgment before the awful throne to be sent to everlasting flame, where there is darkness, and wailing and gnashing of teeth, only received such a sentence because of the man he had already become in this life. It was only because he had, in ways small and slow as easily as in a grand gesture of rebellion, actually committed himself wholly and absolutely against God, choosing finally and with his whole self some other good to be the source of his joy. Such a decision is folly, of course, but it can be made, and the sentence to Hell is nothing other than a divine confirmation of what we have made of ourselves, given only the mercy that through what C.S. Lewis called the fixed pains of Hell, the condemned might never make himself any worse.

Even so, it is also true, existentially of not absolutely, that no one who truly, sincerely, repentantly seeks the mercy of God will fail to find it. The plea of the the king of Nineveh for his people — Who can tell if God will turn and forgive; and will turn away from His fierce anger, and we shall not perish? — could only have been given voice if God's mercy, his prevenient grace, externally through the words of the prophet Jonah, internally through the softening of their hearts, had been given to them. Jesus, of course, makes much the same plea to his people: If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He that believeth in Me, as Scripture saith, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living waters. There is no one seeking truly to end his thirst and not clinging to the poisonous draft of his own sin that will fail to find solace in the gift of the Spirit through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Why, then, can Jesus speak so definitively that the ministers of the rulers and the Pharisees of their inevitable failure in apprehending him? Yet a little while I am with you: and then I go to Him that sent Me. You shall seek Me, and shall not find Me: and where I am, thither you cannot come. Whatever may have been the eternal fate of these ministers, the Gospel does not tell us. What we do know is that there is a kind of seeking, sincere in its own way, which will never find what it wants. It is a seeking which has already made up its mind what cannot be found. It is the seeking that asks of the faith to prove itself to the canons of worldly wisdom, and then revels in the foregone conclusion that something supernatural is not worldly, so it must not be true. It is just this kind of folly, the folly that hears in Jesus' words not his glorious rising and ascension to the right hand of the Father, but a retreat to teach among the Gentiles and the Jews of the Diaspora. It is the folly of the modern critics of the faith, self-assured in their rightness and the truth of the reasons of the world.

Have even such as these any hope? If cruel and proud Nineveh could be transformed, we would be well advised to make no predictions whatsoever about the possibility of the conversion of even the most hardened of sinners. The question, in the end, is not what we might think of others' fates, but what we do in light of our own. Do we let our confidence in the Cross be transformed from sure and certain hope into vain and culpable presumption? Do we trade in the certainties of the gift of faith for a narrowness of sight that will not see the glorious truth God wills to make known to us? Do we become so accustomed to the sip we permitted ourselves of the waters of Jesus Christ, only to ignore the parched throat of our soul yearning for more, while we remain content not to return to drink, and drink to the full?

Grant to Thy people, we beseech Thee, O Lord, health of mind and body: that cleaving to good works, they may ever deserve to be defended by Thy protection.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Passion Sunday

Hebrews 9:11-15 / John 8:46-59

He that is of God, heareth the words of God. Therefore you hear them not, because you are not of God.

When I first studied the Old Testament at university, I was introduced to the problems which arise from the hermeneutical circle. Briefly, the hermeneutical circle is that circle of interpretation in which we understand any given part of a text only in reference to the whole, and at the same time only understand the whole in reference to the parts. Normally it is argued that this circle does not close us off from understanding a text because we can appeal to what we know about the historical, social, cultural, and other contexts in and out of which the text was produced. However, for the Old Testament this is especially problematic since nearly all that we know in any detail about the context out of which the Old Testament was produced we know from the Old Testament. So, we need already to have interpreted the text to provide us with a context to use to interpret the text! Whether or not one can enter into the circle, then, is far from clear.

The Jews who confront Jesus in today's Gospel encounter just such a circle. Jesus insists that he speaks the truth, and indeed challenges his accusers to produce evidence of sin on his part, to explain why they do not believe his words. Yet, Jesus himself provides the answer: Therefore you hear [my words] not, because you are not of God. The claim is simple, and all the same troubling. If one must be already of God to hear Jesus' words, then what is one to do to enter in? How can one move from being not of God, and so dishonor the Son, and in dishonoring the Son dishonor the Father as well?

The problem is all the more sharpened in that who Jesus is, and what he does, is neither of this world, nor derivable from it. His work of sanctification, his high priestly ministry of the good things to come, is accomplished by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is not of this creation. Likewise, the blood that saves is not the blood of goats or of calves, but it is His own blood. Said differently, the worship offered by Jesus to his heavenly Father is ultimately and in truth an affair of the eternal, the eternal oblation of the Son, the very constitution of his return of love to his Father from whom he has received all that he is, the Blood of Christ, Who, by the Holy Ghost, offered Himself unspotted unto God.

Of course, it is true that Christ's humanity was the instrument by which this was brought about in time, but not in a way so as to supplement divine activity, as though God stopped what he had been doing, or else added to what he had been doing, to work out our sanctification. Rather, the Incarnation and the Passion are the drawing up into God of what is eternally the very being of the Son, the Spirit, and the Father. Any attempt to understand Jesus in other terms, however holy, will inevitably fail. This is why the Jews, although the beneficiaries of the Torah and the chosen people of God, elect among the nations, nonetheless can only make sense of Jesus as a heretic or possessed, if not both — Do we not say well, that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? Deriving their knowing from within the framework of the world, they fail to see the being of Jesus, reducing his claims to something of his own making: Whom dost Thou make Thyself? Indeed, the failure of any human terms not already drawn up into the mystery of God through the Incarnation of the Word can be seen in what would otherwise be an intolerable abuse of grammar on the part of Jesus: Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am.

Jesus is God. We know and hold this to be true by confession and creed. Even so, we too can think of Jesus as one more person in the universe, even if one of unimaginable significance and unparalleled love. However, such a view will in the end lead to our taking offense at him. We will find that what he asks of us, even more what he asserts of himself, will be intolerable taken on any terms or in light of any justifications we might try to provide. In the end, we have no other way to know him than to receive his invitation and to be made anew through the waters of baptism, and being baptized, to avail ourselves of those means God himself has given us to hear his voice: the sacraments, the Scriptures, the life of and in the Church. Made new creatures, made sharers in the divine life which he lives, breathing not with earthly air but with the Holy Spirit, no longer of this creation but made living stones of the new creation — this is what it means to be of God and so to be able to hear the words of God.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday of the Fourth Week in Lent

Isaiah 49:8-15 / John 8:12-20

How well can we see the sun? With our naked eyes, not very well at all. However, we would not for that reason want to call the sun obscure, much less invisible. Things which are hard to make out because of their obscurity, because they are cloaked in darkness, can be made better known, because better seen, by bringing more light form elsewhere. By the clarity of these other things, what is hidden can be made manifest, saying to them that are in darkness: Show yourselves. Not so with the sun. There is no other light by which the sun can be made easier for us to see. This is because the sun is not obscure, but rather superabundant in visibility, more than our eyes can bear. We can, to be sure, apply filters to lenses or use special photography, but the result will be that we do not really see the sun as it is, but rather judge it on our own terms, on the terms of the limits of the human eye. Otherwise, we can know the brilliance of the sun by the ease with which we can see other things by its light.

This same problem faces the Jews in John's Gospel. They are offended that Jesus seems to have only his own word to bear testimony to the truth of who and what he claims to be. They demand some other witness by whose words the obscurity of Jesus' identity might be better known — The Pharisees therefore said to Him: Thou givest testimony of Thyself: Thy testimony is not true. However, the fulness of who Jesus is remains hidden from them not because his words or his identity are obscure, but rather because he is the superabundant source of all clarity: I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life. There is no other human witness, no earthly source of light or insight by which Jesus might be better known, since he himself is the very source and goal of every created light, of the penetrating power of any created intellect, of the illuminating grace of any divine revelation. We cannot see him better by means of anything other than the Father who sent him into the world: My judgment is true, because I am not alone: but I and the Father that sent Me. The Pharisees, on the other hand, insist on seeing Jesus, and so they apply the filters to their eyes that let him be seen, draw the veil across their faces to obscure to themselves the fulness of his truth. In so doing, they judge according to the flesh, and as a result, neither Jesus do they know, nor his Father.

The world is craving the food, gasping in thirst for the water that only the Lord Jesus can satisfy, and in his restoration of the human race by his death on the Cross, he has given us, his Church, to be a covenant of the people, that we might raise up the earth and possess the inheritances that were destroyed: that we might say to them that are bound: Come forth: and to them that are in darkness: Show yourselves. We are to be the means by which the hungry are fed, the thirsty have drink, and those in the open are shaded from the heat of the sun. Our response, or following Jesus, the light of the world, while not the light itself and for that reason unable to give any greater justification for the truth of Jesus than he does of himself, is all the same to be for others the means by which they can know God's brilliance through the clarity of our own lives. It is the extent to which our lives are marked by his glory that the world can know the very source of illumination, our Lord Jesus Christ.

O God, who wouldst rather show pity than anger to those who hope in Thee: may we lament as we should the evil we have done, and merit the grace of Thy consolation.